Thursday, April 24, 2008

Talk Thursday - Tanglefoot at Ten

It was early in life when I learned the best days of summer came in August. School generally let out for the summer break in late May, early June. The first weeks of the break were filled with Vacation Bible School, swimming lessons, and then summer school. Where some district hold summer session only for kids in academic trouble, the LaMirada/Norwalk Unified School district held summer school for all takers. And my mom took them up on all offers. Before summer session began, my mother would have workbooks and readers waiting for us, an hour of study and reading each day before summer play could begin. Where summer school filled our mornings, a craft program would fill at least a portion of our afternoons. It wouldn’t be until almost August when summer school would let out and the remaining four or so weeks would be ours.

I was ten and it was my third year of Girl Scout camp that I learned to love, I mean really get into the great out of doors. I found myself for a second year at Circle-Ho, one of the units at Skyland Ranch deep in the Angeles National Forest and the San Jacinto Mountains. The prior year at Circle-Ho I passed out in the flag ceremony before all gathered at the first noon meal, a not so splendid start of the first day of a new session. This year had to be better.

At camp I didn’t go by my name, I was Tanglefoot (thank you mom) because it was much cooler to have a “camp name” and I was pinning my sights on the day I’d get to be a CIT (Counselor In Training.) As happens with every session, many of the returning faces were I knew from the year past: Stephanie Perlman, Karin French, Frannie Hatch, Ann Carrolle and our favorite councilors Dinky, Honey, Twiggy, and Smokey. Camp just felt right that first day, I was back amid the pines, manzanita, and girls who accepted me for, well me.

All remained right until I woke up the next morning to find a Mojave Jade perched in the middle of my chest on my sleeping bag. I’m sure my life was moments from mortal peril, (we’d been taught to beware the insect’s deadly sting) right up until a shoe hit me square in the chest and bounced the scorpion off my bag and into the brush (no we never found it.) Fortunately I’d not been the only girl to wake at that moment in the dawn, Karin French had seen the scorpion eyeing my nose and beaned it with a shoe, therefore saving my life.

Thank heavens Karin’s aim was better than her ability to walk up right. The summer before she’d broke her arm after falling off a boulder, on to some more boulders, breaking her arm. Her injuries would be a running theme through out our time at Skyland Ranch.

The opening days of our two week session in the mountains was spent on forest craft, day hikes, and lessons that would prepare us for our big pack trip, a twenty mile trek into the San Jac wilderness. The evenings were spent in song around a campfire; Barges, Kumbaya, Kookaburra, Puff The Magic Dragon, and my favorite: Spideweb.

Departure day for our pack trip dawned beautiful and bright. We breakfasted on fruit, toast, and the only Oatmeal I’d ever eat – because, damn it was good. We divvied up the supplies we would need over the next four days, secured our packs and climbed in to the vans that would take us to our jump off point.

Stellar Jays greeted us as we started off from Humber’s Landing. Girls followed in a steady stream behind the leading counselors, but as the trek grew long, the line of hikers would become dots and dashes as girls meandering their way along the Devil’s Slide trail. The water rested in a lazy calm of deep pools, but gave way to swifter waters higher up on the trail. In the heat of the day those deep pools would beckon us to enjoy a refreshing dip, but for now it was for us to trod on to make our first night camp.

The days would grow hot and at night we never seemed to be able to get warm in our sleeping bags. I slept one eye open, certain a rattlesnake was going to slither in to keep warm. I should have realized my frozen toes were a sure giveaway that I’d be safe.

A series of three swimming holes prompted us to stop on day three of our pack trip for lunch, then dabble and frolic in the water. Peanut butter, jerky, dried fruit, and Wyler’s lemonade took care of the hunger, the ponds were giving us a great treat from the hiking when suddenly all was not right with Karin French. Just like in a game of Operator the murmurs and whispers that leaked and spread from girl to girl had Karin suffering from cramps, swimming to soon after eating, to snakebite. In truth Karin had to be air-Medivac’d out because her appendix was on the verge of rupturing, she would spend the remainder of summer camp at the hospital in Banning.

Camp our third night out was spent near the swimming pools, several miles from where we should have been. Despite the excitement of the afternoon, the songs were just as harmonious, though the circle of singers around the fire was missing one camper and one counselor. Gone but not forgotten we toasted them with s’mores and sang another round of Barges. The next morning we had to hoof it to make up time and meet our vans to take us back to Skyland for the remainder of summer camp.

It was in those mountains, among those girls that I always felt most at home. The fresh air tinged with pine, Stellar Jays squawking in the sun, owls hooting in the night, name tags made out of manzanita, campfires and the songs. Oh, my joy of singing with these friends in harmony, in rounds, in solitude at days end, in peace. It was peace I found up in those mountains, the friends were just the icing on my cake. I learned to listen, to hear the world and mother nature breathe, to catch the tinkling and babbling of water over rocks, the wind whispering in the tree tops easing me to sleep. I miss those days, those moments, those friends, but I hold them ever in my heart, I take them out and shine up the memory forty some years later, just like it was yesterday.

A Girl Scout song says,

Make new friends
But keep the old
Some are silver
And the others gold.


PS the picture above is actually from teh 1971 Camping and Summer Activities guide put out by the Greater Long Beach Girl Scout Council...and yes that was me with my mouth wide open-- at Skyland.


JulieAnn Henneman said...

I love your stories! Simply love them! xoxo

Phoenix Touch said...

WOW! I want to go to Girl Scout camp!!! I love the pic!

Anonymous said...

Scorpions? Good lordy. I would have screamed and kept screaming until I passed out or someone slapped me. Gah - I hate those things.

Cele, your stories are always fantastic!

Cele said...

You guys are far too sweet.

Juls I loved your picture on this morning blog. Beautimous...

Abgue, Girl Scout Camp was a highlight of my life. I went and was checking out the Skyland Ranch website while I was writing. When I was a kid, you could go for two weeks. Now they give you a long weekend at best. Kids are getting so rooked out of suck a rich experience.

Scorpions are scary Sid, I think I did scream just a little.

You guys thank you.

Anonymous said...

Sid, who are you kidding? You'ld still be screaming . . . ;)

Cele, that was a wonderful story. Your memory and knack for recounting it is uncanny. I am quite envious.

Kudos to you.

darlene said...

I google'd Sky Land Ranch because I have such fond memories of my two week session. I only went once and I really had a hard time adjusting - my first time away from my family, It's amazing how much you remember. I remember our hikes, the cold streams that cooled our canteens so quickly. My favorite song (that I still sing) was Eddie Fell in the Well. I think I went in 1967. I remember hearing years later that Sky Land Ranch was destroyed during one of the mountain fires. For some reason, I thought it was in the San Bernadino you remember the Sugar Bowl?

Jennifer said...

Like Darlene, I also found this blog entry through google while searching for Skyland Ranch. I also have fond memories of going there as a Girl Scout. I remember going once in the summer--I was part of Circle Ho too!--and a couple times with my troop for weekend camping. In my summer session, we planted trees and learned archery. I wish I could remember more details, like you did. I also remember going to summer school in La Mirada just because it was something to do. My girls just got back from a weekend camp at Camp Josepho in Pacific Palisades and they've been to week-long camp at Lakota up near Frazier Park. I hope they'll always have fond memories of Girl Scout camping like I do.

Cele said...

Jennifer, I spent my best summers at Skyland Ranch, beautiful memories. I've thought a few times about going up to see the old ranch. I know it's been redone (I heard it burned once) but my memories are so strong. I have a life long love of Folk music and Folk dancing because of Skyland Ranch. It's always nice to meet someone who shares those memories.